Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Garda own goal in County Mayo

A group of gardai (Irish police), including a sergeant, has been recorded joking about threatening to rape women protesters who refuse to comply with a request for identification. This is a shocking revelation even if they seem to be, relatively at least, callow youths, and even considering that police the world over are known to develop a callousness which comes of regularly dealing with situations that the rest of us would regard as the stuff of nightmares.

The incident occured when Gardai arrested two women who attempted to disrupt work at the Shell terminal near Belmullet, Co. Mayo. One of the protesters was using a video camera at the time.

The camera was apparently put into a bag, having been confiscated but inadvertently left running, unknown to the occupants of the garda patrol car in which it was being transported. The recording, which your blogger has heard, gives an interesting insight into the day-to-day concerns of the garda-on-the-beat, so to speak.

The first people to be heard are the protesters, who are there to obstruct the construction of a gas terminal by Shell. They’re claiming they did nothing wrong but, of course, refusal to identify yourself when asked to do so by police in any jurisdiction is an offence and therefore does constitute “doing something wrong”.

The recording, in total, takes well over half an hour (38.5 minutes). There are discussions about the concerns the lads have around what constitutes a road obstruction, how they would fare in court if a protester was injured while being taken down from a lorry or a tractor, the anxiety that Health and Safety legislation invokes in all who have to implement it and, touchingly, umbrage at being characterised as Keystone Cops, presumably by a protester. Thirty minutes into the tape they’re still discussing the advisability of acquiring bean bags. These are used in the construction and other industries to protect workers who might be in danger of falling from heights.

Listening to the comments about the possibility that one of the arrested was “a Yank” reminded me of the scene in that fantastic movie, The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin, is asked by his Berkeley landlord, played superbly by the late Norman Fell, if he’s “...one of those agitators – those outside agitators”. Readers of a certain age will of course remember that the University of California at Berkeley was a hotbed of student protest in the ‘Sixties, when The Graduate was made.

There is liberal use of the F word which, these days, is an inevitable consequence of listening in to a group of young (and not so young) men who do not know they are being recorded. Certain comforts can be taken from the tape. One is the degree to which the speakers are concerned about proper procedure. Something is motivating them well in this regard, which is good. A major downer is the reminder of how the protest against the Shell gas terminal and its policing in Belmullet have created a “them and us”, confrontational situation between certain members of the community and the gardai, reflected here in the title of this piece. This is not good.

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